Well, that didn't end well, did it? It is very hard to be rational about your team's chances and I sure wasn't. We played a more experienced, better put-together team and our lack of offense made it tough to believe even at an early stage of the game that we were going to pull it out. Strictly speaking we might have more talent, if you're talking about a NBA future, but when you are talking about the present and not about potential Gonzaga has better players overall. And their team is put together well (solid point guard, good bigs, 3 excellent 3-point shooters, and a slashing guard).
Our team, on the other hand, had severe offensive problems against good teams. You know, the teams you need to beat if you're going to get to the Elite Eight or Final Four. In some sense basketball is a simple game--can you beat your man and score on him at an efficient rate. That's why there are these coaches that insist on playing man-to-man because it has the best potential to stop an offense. Looney is not much of a threat to create his own offense and since he got the mask he can't shoot (he was starting to shoot 3's pretty well). Parker has trouble against good size, has a somewhat limited number of post moves and has the bad habit of bringing the ball down which leads to guards knocking it out of his hands. Bryce and Hamilton are pretty inconsistent off the dribble and Powell is great at taking it to the rim but is not much of a shooter (particularly off of the dribble). So we had this tendency this year to get into long offensive droughts and that was a major weakness of this team.
I thought both teams were more concerned about the other team shooting 3's than worried about the low post. We gambled that Karnowski could not beat us and he hurt us big- time; and they were concerned about Alford and dared Parker to beat him and he couldn't. Powell lit them up in the first-half but they realized he was going to his right and they stopped that. Hamilton showed flashes but not enough and he was not a focus of their defense--they dared our inconsistent players (Parker, Hamilton) to beat them and they couldn't. Alford was completely stymied--you wonder when they're chasing them through those screens if he could develop a better mid-range game and maybe a runner. It has to be harder to take him out of the game offensively.
Now to an assessment of the program and our coach. There has been some talk that we have 5 players in the NBA from last year and that we should have gone further, but I don't see it. Howland did not leave the cupboard bare but you cannot get to a Final Four with Parker and the Wears--that set of bigs was giving us a limited post game, weak rebounding and at best decent defense. This year, I think our bigs were good enough with regard to rebounding and defense, and I think if you put this year's bigs on last year's team it would have worked. But this year we needed more reliable offense from our bigs and at times it disappeared.
I don't really see that we can be disappointed with getting to the Sweet 16 with this collection of talent at their current state of development. Do we look like a Duke, Wisconsin, Arizona (I'm not even going to mention Kentucky)? I don't see it. Maybe you can criticize Alford for not bringing in enough talent, or not getting a point guard, but this team got pretty close to its ceiling. Imagine if we had Jordan Adams? If we had him I think it would have been a very different season.
I get the comparison to Lavin, the under-achieving regular season and then over-achieving in the tournament, but I don't think the comparison is valid--at least not yet. This team got significantly better as the year went by and at times we were able to play shut-down defense and hold teams scoreless for long periods (Arizona twice, SMU, even Gonzaga) though our offensive problems would catch up to us at some point. Alford seems to beat teams he should beat. I don't know how to explain the troubles on the road--it seems to me that if your team is badly coached then those problems would crop up at home, too. The road issues could be due to having a young team or maybe he is not game managing on the road well-enough in pressure situations--it's not clear to me what is going on. But I don't think a 11-7 PAC-12 record and a Sweet 16 finish with this group of players is a bad result.
The problem is that if Looney leaves do we have a good enough front-court (if we don't get Zimmerman)? It's not clear that Welsh, Goloman and Parker are a good enough front-line to make a deep tournament run. I am not sure about that, I certainly have concerns about it. Can Bryce, Hamilton or some of our recruits create something off of the dribble against good competition? Our offense was our Achilles heel--where is it going to come from? Teams have to be assembled--they can't be just thrown together and we hope it works somehow. When Howland got the Wears as his bigs he might as well just said he was giving up on going to the Final Four. Are we saying that by having Welsh and Goloman? Are they good-enough front-court players to get us to a Final Four? I have concerns about our front-court talent over the next few years. And at some point an assessment has to be made as to whether Alford can recruit well enough. He has got two years at least, but at some point we have to see the program turning the corner.
Finally, our team deserves credit for coming back from the brink of disaster (Kentucky and the 5- game losing streak), not falling apart, competing hard, and making a credible showing. Some good memories. Powell's explosive dunks, his essentially deciding after the Oregon game that he was not going to let his senior season be a failure; Bryce's incredible 9 threes against SMU. Parker dismantling UAB. Hamilton's 36 points against SC. Looney putting up 26 and 18 against Stanford, not allowing us to lose critical games. Just a sampling of what happened this season, of course. It's always a bit sad to see the end of a season, the last chance that this group will be together and a reminder of mortality I guess as time keeps marching on. It was a bit of a bumpy ride this year but I think this team was successful in that it reached the level its talent and experience dictated it could reach. And I think Alford did a satisfactory coaching job with this group and it's apparent that he never lost the players--they played hard for him--which distinguishes him from Lavin. But it's up to Alford to assemble a team that can go farther than this team could. We're not satisfied with teams that have no potential to go to a Final Four. He has to be given reasonable time to assemble such a team but that time is not unlimited.
Thanks, guys...good luck Norman Powell--student athlete--you represented UCLA well.